And so it is ending, though only for now.
As hard as it is to wrap my head around, my first term draws to a close in the next few days, and in less than a week I will be back on US soil after almost 28 months away from it. The last two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster ride as I say “see you later” to the places, people, and experiences which have been my life here. I’ve formally concluded my work with the SIL Wolof Research Project, moved out of the room I’d lived in for the past 15 months, taken my leave of my Wolof family the Manganes in the culturally appropriate ways, embarked on a five-day whirlwind trip into the heart of Serer-sine land to stop in ten towns and villages and take my leave of the Presbyterian pastors’ families and church members with whom I’ve worked, and now prepare to fly out of the capital.
“Benn at? (‘One year’)” they say, with looks of surprise. “Yacine, benn at yagg na. Waaye dangay ñëwaat? (‘Kyria one year is a long time. You’ll be coming back, won’t you’)” And I reply that God only knows but that I hope to return after my year back in the US. I explain that it’s part of my work to return from time to time and report on what I’ve been doing here, and that I have further training to continue.
And we talk about memories from the past year, the events and Muslim holidays that I was here for. “Kon Yacine, korite du la fi fekk? (‘So Kyria, you won’t be here for the Korite holiday this year’)” That’s right, I tell them, but that won’t stop me from thinking of them. And we talk about the visits I’d paid them and how they’ll miss me. “Maa leen di raw (‘I’ll miss you all more’),” I assure them. And we talk about how quickly time passes, that a year is at once a long amount time and a short amount of time.
And we talk about my family and friends back in the US, from whom I’ve been away for much longer than a year. With seemingly genuine understanding and an “Ndeysaan,” they say how hard it must be to go so long without seeing one’s people. We talk about my first nephew, now two months old, whom I can’t wait to meet and hold. They ask about my twin, whom I haven’t seen for over two years.
And I give them a small token of thanks for making a foreigner like me part of their lives – cloth, or something to buy a nice last meal together, or possessions which it would be pointless to leave in storage for a year. And they put in my hands gifts of cloth, jewelry, hibiscus for making the local staple bissap juice – “Yacine, foofu amul bissap?” (“Kyria, over there there’s no bissap?”) -, the seasoning cubes essential for making the national dish – “Yacine, mbaa dinga toogal say mbokk yi ceebu jën?” (“Kyria, you’ll cook ceebu jën for your friends and family, right?”) -, the pre-prepped and packaged millet for my ease of use, a sack of peanuts they harvested, a chicken they raised, two racks of fresh eggs they farmed. “Waaye lii bare na! (‘But this is too much’),” I try to protest. But they insist and say they’re embarrassed it’s not more. “Yal na leen Yalla fay (‘May God repay you’)” is all I can find to say. They tell me to greet my people in the US for them. “Dinañu ko degg (‘They will hear it’),” I assure them.
And then I give them my left hand for the traditional parting, left-handed handshake. “Yal na la Yalla fekk fa (‘May God find you there’),” they say to me as we part ways, to which I reply, “Amiin!” until we meet again.